Nick Foles no doubt will have a few butterflies in his stomach Sunday when he runs out of the tunnel at Soldier Field for the Eagles’ wild-card playoff game against the Chicago Bears.
But when you’re just 11 months removed from slaying big, bad Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots on the biggest stage in sports and have been the Super Bowl MVP, a first-round game, even one on the road, is no big deal, right?
“You can make it as big as you want it or you can make it small," the Eagles quarterback said Wednesday. “I choose to make it small so that I can just home in on what I need to focus on today.
“That way, by game time, I’ll know that I’ve done everything I can to prepare for that moment, and I can just go out there and play."
Foles admitted to a “little bit of soreness" Wednesday from the rib injury he sustained two weeks ago that was aggravated late in Sunday’s 24-0 win over Washington when the Redskins' Ryan Kerrigan rolled on top of him. But he insisted it’s nothing that will limit him or keep him out of Sunday’s game.
“Every day [it’s] drastically improving," he said. “I’ve spent a lot of time working on recovery. By game time, I’ll feel great."
He said he might wear a little extra padding to protect his ribs, but not a lot. “I want to be able to function and move around," he said.
A year ago at this time, no one was quite sure what to expect from Foles heading into the postseason.
After taking over for injured Carson Wentz late in the season, he looked great in a 34-29 win over the Giants, then not so great in a 19-10 Christmas night win over the Raiders and the first quarter of a meaningless 6-0 loss to the Cowboys.
But when the playoff lights went on, Foles turned in a performance for the ages. In the Eagles’ three postseason wins, he had a 115.7 passer rating, including a 72.6 percent completion rate, six touchdowns and just one interception. His 158.1 postseason third-down passer rating was a Super Bowl-era record.
So, this time around, no one is wondering whether Foles has the right stuff to lead the Eagles on another magical Super Bowl journey.
They’ve been in must-win mode for the last three weeks, ever since that 29-23 Week 14 overtime loss to the Cowboys dropped them to 6-7.
All Foles has done in those three starts is complete 77 percent of his passes, average 8.5 yards per attempt and throw six touchdown passes in three consecutive wins that helped the Eagles earn the sixth and final NFC playoff spot.
“I think the experience [of the last three weeks] helps," he said, referring not only to himself but also his teammates. “I think the fact that we put ourselves in the position where we had to do something like we did, I mean, at one point, there wasn’t a very high-percentage chance of us even being in this situation we’re in now.
“We’re a confident team right now. And with that confidence and that belief in one another, you can go out there and do great things. We’ve been able to do that the last several weeks.
“But that’s behind us. Those [games] don’t mean anything right now. We just have to continue to believe that way, continue to prepare that way."
Foles and the offense will have their work cut out Sunday. The Bears have one of the league’s top defenses. They led the league in interceptions (27) and opponent passer rating (72.9) and were third in sacks (50).
But Foles has been getting the ball out much quicker in his last three starts than he did in his first two starts for Wentz earlier this season. He has averaged 2.20 seconds from snap to release in the last three games, compared to 2.76 seconds in his two September starts.
“I think that comes from just his understanding of the offense, knowing where everybody is going to be," coach Doug Pederson said. “If it’s a ball out fast to the flat, he’s going to get it there. If he has to hold it for a second to get it down the field, he’s going to know [he has the time to do] that.
“I think it’s just understanding the offense, the down, the distance, the situation of the game. And he’s been very accurate with his throws, which helps the offense stay a little ahead of the [first-down] chains on early downs."
Last week, Foles relied primarily on a short passing game in the Eagles’ 24-0 win over the Redskins, something we might see again Sunday to counter the Bears’ pass rush.
Foles completed 28-of-33 passes against Washington, including 25 in a row, which tied an NFL record. His 84.8 percent completion rate was the highest of his career.
Just six of his 33 attempts traveled more than 5 yards from the line of scrimmage. None was longer than 16 yards. It was the first time this season that Eagles quarterbacks didn’t have at least one pass attempt of 20 yards or more.
“I’m just playing ball," Foles said. “I’ve talked before about read-and-react. That’s just sort of what’s happened.
“Each game is a new entity. You go out there and you feel the game and you understand game management [as far as] what’s going on. My body at times knows when to take the shot [downfield], and when not to. When to be smart and stay inside the chains.
“These last few weeks, that’s just sort of how it’s gone. We’ve been able to play at a faster level. The wide receivers are doing a really good job of running their routes, getting open quickly. The line’s been doing a great job. So we’re playing fast. It’s been good for us to do that."